Thursday 20 January 2011
Don’t meddle with a myth
I’m thinking of organising a campaign for the pardon of Robin Hood. Well, why not, especially as Bill Richardson, outgoing Governor of New Mexico, spent eight years, yes, eight years, humming and hawing over whether or not to grant a pardon to William H Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. He has decided, in the end, that it’s simply not worth the trouble. Was it ever worth the trouble, I have to ask?
Bonney, an outlaw and a killer, best known for his part in the Lincoln County War, was shot dead by Sherriff Pat Garrett in July 1881. The story goes that prior to this he had reached a bargain with Lew Wallace, then Governor of New Mexico, a former Civil War general best known as the author of the Biblical novel Ben Hur, who had promised him a pardon for his involvement in the Lincoln County killings in return for testimony on another murder. In the end this alleged promise – there is some ambiguity on the point- was never honoured.
The Kid campaign –opposed by the descendents of Pat Garrett – was headed by Randi McGinn, a New Mexico Lawyer, who organised a petition after reviewing the historical documents on the case. In an interview she said “What I found is that, as ever, history is written by the victors. The other side has had 130 years to make Billy the Kid out as a bad guy.”
But that’s just the point: he was a bad guy, which is precisely why he is so appealing, part of the enduring legend of the Old West, as immortal as Robin Hood. Like Robin he was an outlaw; and, like Robin, he will, thank goodness, remain an outlaw. American state governors should surely have better sense than to meddle with a myth.